143-Coming Apart

Christianity as a religion becomes a diminishing factor in the political affairs of 19th Century Europe and Latin America.


This 143rd episode of CS is titled Coming Apart

Europe in the late 19th C was recovering from the Napoleonic Wars. War-weary, the nations longed for a prolonged period of peace in which to take a breath, and consider HOW they were going to rebuild from the devastation recent conflicts has left. A plethora of new economic and political theories were available for them to choose from as they rebuilt. Most settled on economic and political ideas that were more liberal in terms of individual rights. The prosperity that had marked Holland became a model for a good part of Europe as they moved to a classic free-market system. With few exceptions, the governments of Europe adopted modified parliamentary systems.

This is the time when Europe moved from kingdoms to the more modern notion of nation-states. And religious affiliation keying off the Reformation and Counter-reformation often played a part in defining borders. For instance, Germany under the leadership of Prussia was fiercely Protestant while Austria was doggedly Roman Catholic. Belgium was Catholic while The Netherlands were Protestant.

But probably the most important development that occurred from the mid to late 19th C in Europe was the escalating divide between church and state. Following the Reformation, in those regions where Protestantism reigned, the church maintained a relationship with the State, much as the Catholic Church had before. But after the French Revolution, things changed. This was due to the emerging power of civil govts who no longer were beholden to clerical authority. The laisse-faire economics practiced across Europe birthed an economic boom that had a remarkable impact on the way people regarded much more than just economics. While many nations kept a State church that was subsidized by public funds, there was a boom in free churches supported solely by the offerings of their members. Being economically independent, they didn’t see themselves as needing to comply with some overarching ecclesiastical hierarchy. Freedom of thought & the freedom of the individual conscience so exalted by Enlightenment philosophy was linked solidly to the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura, so that people valued their right to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. It got to the point where the free churches considered themselves as the real bastions of orthodoxy since their doctrine wasn’t tainted by economic interests and the need to endorse the State in order to keep their subsidy.

While Great Britain followed a parallel track to that of the Continent in the 19th C, the Industrial Revolution had a more marked impact there. The Industrial Revolution benefitted the middle class and those entrepreneurs who rode it’s wave, while diminishing the wealth & influence of the old nobility and pulverizing the poor. The too-rapid growth of cities led to overcrowding, slums, and increased crime. The poor lived in miserable conditions & were exploited at work. That led to a mass migration to the United States, Canada, New Zealand, & Australia. It also led to the birth of the Labor party which became a potent force in British politics. Let’s not forget that it was in England, against the back-drop of the abuses of the Industrial Revolution, that Karl Marx developed many of his economic theories.

All this influenced the church in England. During the French Revolution, the Church of England held several of the evils that had characterized the worst of the medieval church: Errors such as clerical absenteeism & holding multiple church offices for nothing more than personal gain. Then, a major renewal shook the Church of England. A reform-minded clergy managed to take control, and bolstered by laws enacted by Parliament, they were able to roll back the abuses. These reformers where of the Evangelical movement within Anglicanism, Pietists who longed to move away from the high-church magisterialism of Anglicanism to a greater solidarity with Continental Protestantism. A counter-movement responded in what came to be known as the Oxford movement. They went the other direction and came to be known as Anglo-Catholics. Heavily influenced by Romanticism & inspired by Eastern Orthodoxy, the Oxford movement emphasized the authority of tradition, apostolic succession, and Communion, rather than preaching, as the center of Christian worship.

But it was in the free churches in England that most spiritual vitality was found during the late 19th C. The growth of the middle class resulted in an upsurge in membership at the free churches. Numerous outreaches to the poor were conducted that helped alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands. Others worked politically to enact laws to curb the abuse of workers. This was also a time a massive missionary outreach from England. It was in their desire to help the poor that Sunday Schools were started. Others organized the Young Men’s Christian Association, better known by its acronym, YMCA, as well as the YW (women’s) A. New denominations were born, like the Salvation Army, whose primary focus was to help the urban poor.

It was the work of Methodists, Quakers, and others that led to the founding of labor unions, prison reform, and child labor laws. But the most important accomplishment of British Christians during the 19th C was the abolition of slavery. Quakers & Methodists had condemned slavery for yrs. But it was now, thanks to the leadership of William Wilberforce and other believers, that the British govt ended slavery. They first ended the slave trade. Then in they decreed freedom for slaves in the Caribbean. Following that slavery ended in other colonies. The British prevailed on other nations to end the slave trade. The British Navy was authorized to use force against slavers. Soon, most Western nations had abolished slavery.

In the Portuguese & Spanish colonies of Latin America in the 19th C, the tension between the peninsulares; immigrants recently arrived from Europe, & the criollos; descendants of earlier immigrants, was high. The criollos had become wealthy by exploitation of Indians and slave. They thought themselves more astute at running the affairs of the colony than the recently arrived peninsulares. The problem was, the peninsulares had been appointed to both governmental and ecclesiastical positions by officials back home. Despite the fact that the wealth of the colonies had been dug out by the sweat and toiul of the native population and imported slaves, the criollos claimed they were the casue of the wealth. So they resented the intrusion of the peninsulares. Although remaining faithful subjects, they abhorred laws that favored the hone country at the expense of the colonies. Since they had the means to travel to Europe, many of them returned home embued with the new political & economic ideologies of the Continent. The criollos were to Latin America what the bourgeoisie was to France.

In 1808, Napoleon deposed Spain’s King Ferdinand VII, & replaced him with his brother Joseph Bonaparte. Resistance to King Joe centered at Cadiz, where a board called a “junta” ruled in the name of the deposed Spanish monarch. Local juntas were also set up Latin America. The colonies began ruling themselves, in the name of the Spanish king. Then when Ferdinand was restored in 1814, instead of gratitude for those who’d preserved his territories, he reversed all that the juntas had done. When he abolished the constitution the Cadiz junta issued, the reaction was so strong he had to reinstate it. In the colonies, the criollo resentment was so strong to his iron-fisted attempt to re-assert control, they rebelled. In what is today Argentina, Paraguay, & Uruguay—the junta simply ignored the mandates from Spain & continued governing until independence was proclaimed in 1816. Then, 2 yrs later, Chile declared independence. To the N, Simón Bolívar’s army defeated the Spanish and proclaimed independence for Greater Colombia; which was eventually broken up into Colombia, Venezuela, & Panama. Ecuador, Peru, & Bolivar followed.

Brazilian independence came about as fallout from the Napoleonic Wars. In 1807, fleeing Napoleon’s armies, the Portuguese court took refuge in Brazil. In 1816, João VI was restored to rule but showed no desire to return to Portugal until he was forced to 5 yrs later. He left his son Pedro as regent of Brazil. When HE was called on to return to Portugal, Pedro refused & proclaimed Brazilian independence. He was crowned Emperor Pedro I of Brazil. But he was never really allowed to rule as his title implied. He was forced to accept a parliamentary system of government.

Events in Mexico followed a different course. The criollos planned a power-grab from the peninsulares but when the conspiracy was discovered, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, proclaimed Mexican independence on Sept 16, 1810 at the head of a motely mob of 60,000 Indians and mestizos—persons of mixed Indian and Spanish blood. When Hidalgo was captured and killed, he was succeeded by the priest José María Morelos. The criollos regained power for a time, but under the leadership of Benito Juárez, the native Mexicans re-asserted control. Central America, originally part of Mexico, declared independence in 1821, and later broke up into Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

Haiti’s independence was another result of the French Revolution. As soon as the French Revolution deprived the white population on the island of military support, the majority blacks rebelled. Independence was proclaimed in 1804, acknowledged by France in 1825.

Throughout the 19th C, the overarching ideological debate in Latin America was between liberals and conservatives. Leaders of both groups belonged to the upper class. And while conservatives tended to be located in landed aristocracy, liberals found their support among the merchants and intellectuals in urban centers. Conservatives tended to fear freedom of thought and free enterprise while those were cardinal virtues for liberals, because they were modern & were suited to their interests as the merchant class. While conservatives looked to Spain, liberals looked to Great Britain, France, & the USA. But neither group was willing to alter the social order so lower classes could share the wealth. The result was a long series of both liberal & conservative dictatorships, of revolutions, & violence. By the turn of the C, many had come to agree with Bolívar that the continent was ungovernable. The Mexican Revolution seemed to make the point. It began in 1910 and led to a long period of violence and disorder that impoverished the land and moved many to emigrate.

Throughout this colonial period in Latin America, the church was under Patronato Real = Royal Patronage. That meant the govts of Spain & Portugal appointed the bishops of the colonies. Therefore, the higher offices of the church were peninsulares while criollos and mestizos formed the lower clergy. While a few bishops came to support the cause of independence, most supported the crown. After independence, most returned to Spain, leaving their seats empty.

Now, we might think, “Well, that’s not difficult to sort out. Why didn’t those local sees just appoint their own bishops?” They wanted to, but in the tussle between Spain claiming the right to appoint bishops and the locals claiming the right, the Pope wavered. He wavered because Spain was still a main & much needed ally in Europe, while the new nations of Latin America were a substantial part of the Catholic flock. Papal encyclicals tried to walk a thin line between honoring European monarchs while at the same time culling back to the Vatican the ability to name its own bishops. It was a political sticky wicket that dominated the diplomatic scene for years.

The attitude of the lower clergy, again, made up mostly of criollos and mestizos, contrasted with that of the bishops who tended toward being conservative. In Mexico, 3 out of 4 priests supported the rebellion. 16 out of the 29 signatories of Argentina’s Declaration of Independence were priests.

Many of you may remember the Liberation Theology movement popular across Latin America in the early 80’s. It was led largely by Roman Catholic priests. They were following in the footprints of earlier priests from a century before.

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